Hideo Kojima, the visionary behind Metal Gear Solid, has constantly been able to deliver quality games in the series for people to play. Whether it’s the nostalgic and groundbreaking Metal Gear Solid on the first PlayStation, or the climatic and poignant Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, the argument can be made that there isn’t a single poor Kojima-directed MGS title out there, and one of the main reasons why are the fantastic boss battles. They’re diverse, eccentric, intimate, bombastic, and always manage to surprise even the most hardcore fans. For all of the things this series has brought to the table in terms of video game design, and especially the way games tell stories, the boss battles are what really stand out the most in the end. A lot more developers should learn from Kojima in this department.
The first example that has to be brought up is Solid Snake’s mind-bending and enthralling showdown with Psycho Mantis in MGS1. This is arguably the first moment you realize what type of visionary Kojima really is, and just how zany Metal Gear Solid can get. Psycho Mantis reads the player’s mind by recalling their playstyle, controlling their DualShock through the rumble feature, messing with their TV screen, forcing them to switch controller ports, and reading their memory card. After all these years (since 1998), this encounter still remains as one of the most memorable moments in videogames, and for good reason. Kojima opted to go beyond simply creating a humdrum and repetitive slug fest that far too many games are guilty of having. It demonstrated the storytelling and interactive potential of video games.
Fast-forward to 2004 with Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, and it’s is the same situation with The End boss fight. Kojima has you play a tactical, patient, and stealthy game of cat-and-mouse with master sniper The End. You have to sneak around and locate him in a lush jungle environment (which isn’t easy to do), all the while not getting spotted yourself. This can easily last over an hour, depending on the player’s skill, and you can also just hide somewhere and wait until The End simply dies of old age. Kojima originally wanted this battle to last for days—actual days—but for obvious reasons, it couldn’t be done.
One that’s a little more traditional, but still manages to surprise, is Solid Snake and Liquid Ocelot’s last fight in Metal Gear Solid 4. They beat each other mercilessly with close-quarters combat. All the while, music themes for all four main MGS games are played during the entire fight, and you’re in the middle of all of it. Kojima and his studio could’ve easily made this last fight more traditional by incorporating gunplay and making it bombastic rather than the intimate affair that we got. It’s simply two men that are ready to end it all after countless years of fighting, and they’re going to just beat each other senselessly until only one’s left standing. The fight also includes some of the best camera shots and production value you’ll ever see.
In the end, the list goes on and on, but what’s really the issue here is the fact that Metal Gear Solid is one of only of a very few series that consistently gets boss battles right. It’s no coincidence that they’re becoming a thing of the past as most games these days don’t include boss battles—developers just don’t know how to make good ones. Rocksteady’s Arkham trilogy is a prime example. Yes, the series is fantastic, and arguably the best comic-book superhero game series ever made, but the former two entries (Asylum and City) were heavily criticized for their repetitive boss battles that often pale in comparison to the rest of the games’. They’re mostly trial and error, rinse and repeat. Batman has to spot a weakness, then exploit it by doing the same combat moves over and over again. (Last Joker fight in Asylum, anyone?)
With Metal Gear Solid, Kojima always puts a zany spin on things with each boss. Each fight makes use of what makes the actual villain so unique in the first place. What’s so special about them? The End is a master sniper, so the battle with him is long, quiet, and requires patience. Fatman in MGS2 loves bombs, so you’ve to constantly worry about freezing these bombs during Raiden’s battle with him. It’s never one note. Developers need to figure out what makes their villains so special and interesting from a narrative and aesthetic standpoint and build engaging boss battles with that in mind. It has worked for Kojima time and time again.